Unity Through Humility – Part 1

Intro: Read Phil. 2:1-11 – This is where we will be for most of this month. I can assure from the beginning that a month, or even a year, is not enough time to extract all the powerful and relevant life lessons contained here. These words reflect the attitudinal environment of the gospel.

God wants His people to be one. Unity is a necessary and desired ingredient of life and work of the Lord’s church. Notice that these verses begin with the word, “therefore”. This points us back to what the apostle already said. (considered in a previous lesson)

  • He called on the Philippians to conduct themselves in a manner that displayed the importance and worth of the gospel message (1:27).
  • He commanded them to stand together “in one spirit” and in one mind, and to strive fearlessly together against a common enemy. (1:28)
  • Same gospel; same spirit; same mind, same struggle. They were to be together. How is that accomplished? What does that involve?

I want to consider the first 4 verses of our reading in Phil. 2. In these words the apostles provides:

  • The motivations for our unity
  • The essential characteristics of our unity
  • And the practical means of obtaining our unity

Philippians 2:1-4 – “Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, 2 fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. 3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

I. The Motivation for Our Unity (v. 1-2); The apostle addresses the “why”. Why should we strive to be one? The reason why God’s people should be unified in mind and practice is deeper than just utilitarian practicality. There is more to it than just feeling good about everybody getting along (who doesn’t want everybody to get along?) Paul presents 2 reasons:

A. “if there is any consolation in Christ…” There are four “ifs” in verse 1. (if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy) The Greek participle almost always is conditional when the verb is supplied in the text. There are times however when the verb is only implied (such as here) and the word if expresses the idea of a reality that is true. “If this condition is true, and it is, then…” Consequently, the word may better be rendered “because,” “since,” or “so”. Paul is expressing what is already true, so as to motivate the Christians to actively seek unity. Because there is consolation, and comfort of love, and fellowship of the Spirit, and affection and mercy in Christ, then you need to be of one mind.

1. Paul is encouraging us to look carefully at what God has provided in Christ. If Christ has comforted us, loved us, provided fellowship for us through His Spirit; if Jesus has extended affection and mercy to us; then we need to get along and work together. We can comfort, love, extend fellowship, affection and mercy to each other.

a. The more we understand God’ concern for us, the more we will express concern for others. Jesus taught this truth to arrogant Simon, when he questioned why Jesus would allow a prostitute to show Him honor in Luke 7 – “He who is forgiven much loves much; He who is forgiven little, loves little.”

2. Have you ever reasoned with you children (quarreling siblings) in this manner? “You need to stop fighting, because your mother and I do not fight.” “We have been merciful to you, you need to do the same for your sister.” “This is not the way this family rolls.”

3. Jesus was very concerned about his apostles staying unified after His death, and ascension. He prayed for their unity in John 17. But before He even prayed about it, He laid the groundwork for His plea in John 13 (before the Passover meal) when he took a towel, got down on His knees and washed the feet of the apostles. The lesson was: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:14-15)

B. “fulfill my joy”– the second reason Paul gives is more personal. Their spiritual unity would be his joy. They should strive to get along because that is what would make Paul happy. He had invested himself in this church. Do you realize that other people’s happiness may be dependent on your willingness to be one with another person?

II. The Essential Characteristics of Our Unity (v. 2) – “fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.” Paul moves from the “why” to the “what”. What does spiritual unity look like? What are the essential elements of being together as God’s people?

A. Being Like-minded (of the same mind) – Thinking right is a major theme of Philippians (of the twenty-six occurrences of the verb form of mind or think (phroneo) in the New Testament, ten are found in this letter.) The Greek phrase here is auto phronete (fron-eh-te) which literally means to “think the same thing”. Being of the same mind means to actively strive to achieve common understanding and genuine agreement. A few verses later, the apostle declares this same mind is to be the mind of Christ, exemplified by the attitude and actions of humility.

1. Does that command seem a bit challenging? How can we possibly expect to think alike? (when people are married long enough do they begin to think the same thing?) This command is only practical or possible in view of the objective revelation of God in scripture. We can only hope to think the same thing if we all think what God commands us to think. This command is comprehensive and can be viewed from two perspectives.

a. In doctrine: Paul addressed the disunity at Corinth through an appeal for them to think alike. 1 Cor 1:10-13 – 10 Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. 12 Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? Their divided allegiance translated into a divided mind; a divided judgment. Paul’s command that be of the same mind here demanded that they recognize the authority of Christ alone and speak only what God had revealed through the gospel – not the wisdom of the world but the wisdom of God (1:19-24) “Christ crucified” (2:1-2). In Ephesians 4, the apostle commands us to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Subsequently he defines the elements of the unity that has been revealed through the Spirit as “one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” We must be like-minded on doctrine; united in the truth.

b. In attitude: But doctrinal unity is not all that is involved in living in harmony with one another. In fact, doctrinal unity is not the main thought in Philippians 2. Paul goes on to describe attitudes or dispositions that make unity possible. Just as the Spirit has revealed the objective truth on which we must unite, He has also revealed the essential attitudes on which we must unite. These attitudes are most visibly seen in the what Paul describes as the mind of Christ. We will explore this more in our future lessons this month.

2. One interpretation of this admonition (to like-minded) is horizontally focused. Paul is telling us to mind each other alike. We are to think the same toward every brother or sister. Compare Paul’s use of the same phrase in Romans 12:16Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble.

a. James Coffman says, “This verse is a prohibition of partiality and respect of persons within communities of Christians. This command may address a common problem in congregations – separations (divisions) of race wealth, abilities, social backgrounds, or age. Coffman goes on to say that such divisions within a church are evil. “Regardless of how naturally and conveniently such divisions … tend to appear, that magnanimous and outreaching love of the true Christian will resist and countermand them. Every member of the body of Christ is a sacred person, every Christian the brother of every other Christian; and God knows no aristocracy in his holy church except that of loving service. (from Coffman’s Bible Commentary)

b. The admonition is to hold the same mind toward all Christians, no matter who they are. Jesus portrayed this even-mindedness in his personal ministry. He was as comfortable and courteous in the home of Zacchaeus as Simon, the Pharisee. He spoke as kindly to Nicodemus in John 3 as to the Samaritan woman in John 4.

c. James exhorts… My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism, For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? . . . But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:1-4, 9). This does not ignore our responsibility to make distinctions of morality or faithfulness in matters of doctrine. But in our disposition towards each other do we see everyone here alike? Do we have the same mind toward one another as we have toward ourselves? Which leads to the next phrase in Phil 2:2…

B. “Having the same love” – To have the same love is to love others equally. On a purely emotional level this is impossible, because people are not equally attractive. However, Agape is the love of will, not of preference or attraction. It is based on an intentional, conscious choice to seek the welfare of its object.

• Romans 12:10 – Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.

1. The apostle John unequivocally connects the active love of one Christian toward another with spiritual life.

• 1 John 3:14-19We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. 15 Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 16 By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? 18 My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.

2. This sameness of love is the practical obligation to do as much good for one brother as for the other. Would you sacrifice yourself for every other Christian, or just some? Jesus has the same love for ever sinner.

• Romans 5:6-8For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

C. Being of one accord (united in spirit) Sumpsuchos (united) literally means “one-souled” and is used only here in the New Testament. To be of one accord is to live in selfless harmony with fellow believers.

1. Like every other Christian virtue, unity of spirit must be grounded in the objective truth of God’s Word. But it also has a subjective aspect. Such unity involves a deep and passionate concern for God, His Word, His work, His gospel, and His people. No two Christians–no matter what their level of spiritual maturity and knowledge of Scripture–will understand everything exactly alike. But if they are controlled by humility and love, they will be genuinely united in spirit. They will not allow inconsequential differences to divide them or to hinder their service for the Lord. This unity of souls is further defined by Paul in the last phrase of v. 2 –

D. Of One Mind. Paul uses the same participle as before (heis-phroneo)

1. The phrase literally means to be intent on one purpose, or thinking one thing.

2. Do we think the same thing? It is very popular today to celebrate diversity (and there is some validity to this sentiment). Paul does not take that approach here. He says that our strength and identity flows from a desire and diligence to even think the same thing. Our relationship to God and each other is based on revealed objective truth. There is a right and wrong way to think.

When a brother falls away – Do we all think the same thing?
When a sister is on physical need – Do we all think the same thing?
When we are persecuted as a church – do we all think the same thing?
When we come to worship, when we set out to teach the lost, when we are rebuked for our own sin.. Do we all think the same thing?
If we learn to seek and think the same truth, Satan cannot use these events to divide us.

3. In this one verse the apostle presents a full circle of unity–from one mind, to one love, to one spirit, to one purpose, which, as just noted, basically refers again to the mind.

4. In Colossians, Paul beautifully summarizes these marks of spiritual unity: Col 3:12-15 – “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

Conclusion: God is calling us to unity. We have the reasons, and the apostle has described this unity to us. Now, how do we attain it?